Sleigh Rides: A Winter Pastime

Posted on October 31, 2023


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Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue was once a grand thoroughfare for horse-drawn sleighs rushing through the snow. In the bitterly cold winters, people traveled around the city amidst the snow – they still needed to go about their business; but sleigh riding was also an entertaining pastime for the wealthy. 

Newspapers reported good sleighing weather conditions, and riders lined the sleighs with hay before bundling in with blankets atop warm coats, hats, mittens, and more. In 1847, Clevelanders even enjoyed a concert at the Weddell House Hotel, of J. C.Gillams “Sleigh Waltzes” in five parts, finishing with “the party returning home in an uproar. Ringing of bells, cracking of whips, running away of horses.” However, in 1850, one Plain Dealer writer cautioned sleighing couples about the dangers of romantic rides: drivers must keep their eyes on the horses (and not their passenger) in order to avoid the disaster of an overturned sleigh!

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Euclid Avenue Sleighing and Coaching, late 19th century. WRHS Library

There are many types of sleighs, and not all meant for people or raucous parties and courting couples. Smaller, horse-drawn contraptions were useful for work, including maple sugaring. Sugaring usually begins in the snowy days of mid-February and continues through early springtime. The amateur photographer Henry M. Albaugh captured Ohioans in candid scenes such as this one, which help to document daily life for us today.

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Farmers with Sleigh with Horses, Maple Sugaring, ca. 1905. Henry M. Albaugh Photographs, WRHS Library

Western Reserve Historical Society is the oldest cultural institution in Northeast Ohio, the region's largest American history research center, and one of the leading genealogical research centers in the nation.

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